London – High tech equipment for better drinking
Nowadays, bars are equipped like laboratories. Producing and refining your own drinks seems to be the order of the day. Taking a material and turning it into something drinkable, extracting flavours and creating new drinking experiences. Science is, in any case, part of the cocktail process. I am really fascinated by this scientific approach and of course by the drinkable results. There is so much love for the original product, a huge portion of passion and personal commitment. The guest expects consistent quality and a new, unique way of drinking. In London I experienced this cocktail evolution and some attractive concepts.
Simplicity, zero waste, seasonal ingredients, fermentation – less is more. This is what you feel when you enter the grey room with its low-key Scandinavian vibe. Concrete paired with a warm wooden seating area and an open kitchen at the end of the space. No classic bar counter, no classic drinking. Is this cocktail 2.0?
The brain behind this concept is Matt Whiley, famous for being one of London’s best mixologists. I had already tried some of the cocktails when Scöut had a guest shift in Paris promoting the new bar.
Cocktails with a conscience: even the menus and coasters are recycled. Seasonal and local ingredients are refined in the in-house laboratory.
The ever-changing menu is broken down into cocktails, ferments, natural wines, beer/cider and small dishes. The latter are prepared from the left-overs of the bar preparation. Sounds a bit weird and not very inviting? No way, the drinks are delicious, the preparation is inventive and forward looking.
Zero waste is not a new concept but a forgotten one. We can have everything at any time we want. Ten years ago I did a cookery course in Asia and I was really surprised that they used everything, even the peel of the banana. This is also the case with fermentation. My grandmother used the fermentation process to preserve food, it is a natural process. Scöut is an extraordinary place: the coolness of the venue contrasts with the warm hospitality of the bar team. If you want to feel good, this is the right place.
The drinks come in finest glassware, beautifully served with an ice cube bearing the scout logo. I tried many of them. My favourite, because I love vetiver, is the Fig Leaf with fermented gorse flower and vetiver. A place where drinking makes a better planet for us.
“Welcome to untitled, a new concept in restaurant and bar design – a place to eat, drink and socialise in a relaxing atmosphere. enjoy a unique and innovative drinks list created by the renowned tony conigliaro and his drink factory team. perfectly accompanied with a japanese inspired food menu brought to you by michelin starred global sensation rob roy cameron.” http://www.untitled-bar.com/location/ (02.11.2017)
A perfect summary I found on their website. Untitled was the first bar I visited in London. I was so curious after the presentation by Tony Conigliaro at the Lisbon Bar Show about his new bar.
A Bar, a restaurant, a gallery? Just Untitled.
Eat, drink, talk.
As soon as you enter the venue it is pretty clear that you are not in a classic cosy bar. An enormous concrete table dominates the room, some unobtrusive bar chairs and enough wall space for temporary exhibitions. I was so happy when I was seated just next to the bartender who was standing at a tiny work station at the head of the massive table. The drinks come pre-batched and so there is no need to have a huge preparation area. And it was an additional surprise when I found out that the bartender was Matthias Ingelmann from Germany who recently moved to London. I did a quick tour through the venue. There is an upper level with more tables and seats. A purist style, concrete, filigree glassware, clear lines, pieces of art and pleasant lighting. Fascinating and impressive.
The food was excellent but the drinks are the stars, the exhibition pieces in this gallery ambience. The glassware is custom made and fits the taste profiles perfectly. Let’s have a closer look to the menu: a piece of paper that comes shrink-wrapped. Before I started to browse the menu, a petri dish was served with a super thin red wafer. It is a wish, or less poetically, a palate cleanser.
There are 12 drinks on the menu. They come pre-batched, delivered from the Drink Factory, the experimental lab of maestro Tony C. The taste is just like their namesakes, simple as that. Which one would you take?
My first drink of choice was Gozo. A good start with a pleasant sweetness, a tequila old fashioned – nothing thrilling. Habana with molasses rum, rooibos, and soy was definitely my favourite. A super smooth and complex concoction. Do you remember the first snowflake on your tongue? There is a taste, a very fragile one and it has been caught in the drink Snow. The Rice has really the taste of the leftover water when you cook basmati rice. Stunning! Now we come to the Violin, I had tried it already at the Bar Show and I was terrified by the taste. The drink is served in wonderful glassware, mirroring the neck and body of a violin but the bitterness is really horrible. You have to order the chocolate tempura dessert to survive this experience, which is, after all is said and done, not too bad.
I had two great nights at Untitled and I fell in love with the Reverence Aromatique Hand Wash of Aesop found in the bathrooms. The wish I made, when I got the palate cleanser on my second visit, was that Tony C will create a drink which matches the smell of this hand soap. By the way, you will find the same soap at Scöut and newly in my bathroom.
Duck & Waffle has, besides a breathtaking view over London, a very special cocktail menu to offer. The “Origins” menu focuses on one single ingredient using all parts of this ingredient and offers so called “single origin drinks”. Extraction of flavour is the focus of Richard Woods new menu.
To make it simple and less theoretical, I opted for the drink Tomato. This creative twist on a classic Gimlet is made from green tomato distillate, blanched tomato skin and cordial. The base spirit is a Fords gin and decoration is the tomato stalk, no left overs – everything is used. Tomato is a lovely ice cold and clear concoction with a very delicate and subtle aroma. My next drink of choice was a more grounded one Earth. An earthy Royal style cocktail with nutty and damp woodland notes. Damp distillate, moss cordial and oak bark filled up with bubbles. Interesting taste, earth and mossy indeed.
While I was sipping my drinks and had a tasty tuna tartare from the bar food menu, I tried to recognise the buildings from high above. Right in front of me, the Gherkin and slightly further away, the River Thames, snaking through the city. This must be the highest of London’s cocktail bars. Located on the 40th floor, accessible by a super fast glass elevator. You are surrounded by a full-screen glass front. The interior is a mix and match of glass, wood, a colourful graffiti wall and blue and white floor tiles. The stainless steel bar block is positioned in the centre like a huge kitchen block. It reminded me a bit of a Spanish tapas bar: traditional and modern at the same time.
With a big dash of warm-heartedness this could be a more cosy place. Nevertheless, it is worth it for the view and the Tomato.
Whisky lovers watch out – this bar specialises only on whisky. Located in the basement of a restaurant it is easy to miss. Down the steps, behind an unobtrusive door you will find yourself in a black painted low key lit room. Not big, maybe thirty square metres, but the centrepiece is gigantic. It is a massive half tree trunk serving as a table lined by eighty chairs at normal seating height. I sat down at the middle of the table and looked around. There is no bar, just a small trolley to prepare the drinks. There is no backbar, but a group of glass cabinets lined up along the wall and stocked with hundreds of whiskies from around the world. Each cabinet is labelled with the predominant flavour profile of a whisky: Balance, Fruit, Spice, Smoke, Fragrance, Sweet. All the whiskies had been categorised and sorted by these six characteristics. A new classification for whiskies, great.
The whole concept is truly extraordinary.
I turned my eyes back to the menu in front of me. They serve cocktails and highballs and use the same categories. This is genius and super simple. I browsed through the menu. Table wine I know but had never heard about table whisky. I immediately noticed the water tap coming out of the table to allow you to refill your water glass yourself, but it escaped my attention that there are two channels carved the full length of the trunk and covered with glass. The table serves as an ageing system for the table whisky blend. One channel contains an American oak aged cocktail, the other, a French Oak one. At the end of the trunk there are two taps to fill your glasses. Definitely a table whisky!
The prices for drams rank from £7 to £11 depending on the number of beads around the neck of the bottles. This is a great opportunity to taste Scotch, Irish, American, and Japanese spirits. The food is also dedicated to whisky lovers, with oysters, haggis, and scotch egg.
After a nice chat with the friendly and very knowledgeable bartender, (and now I miss my lost notes again because he gave me some nice details), I opted for a Fragrance cocktail. An intensive mixture of Dalwhinnie, violette, lavender oil and citric. The whisky variation of an Aviation. It was intensive, herbal, and reminded me a bit of a bath essence. My next drink of choice came from the Smoke section. Lagavulin 8 years, fernet coffee distillate and a cookie foam, which together looked like a cold reverse Irish coffee. The taste was strong and the mouth feeling very smooth. I stayed with the same category, Smoke, and opted for the highball version. Nikka whisky, ginger, yuzushu soda and Caol Ila – absolutely delicious. London is going to kill me either with its drinks or right-hand drive traffic.
What all of the four bars have in common is that they have no bar counters. It seems that bar counters are becoming an endangered species in London. Furthermore, I visited them all in one day. This barstalking thing is a serious hobby, damn it!